Thursday, 7 January 2016

Chapter 11: At the Ironsmith’s

Vandiya Devan rode steadily towards Pazhaiarai without halting anywhere. He remembered the path that he had taken days ago when he was on his way to Kodi Karai, therefore he didn’t stop and inquire about the route. At first, he travelled through the woods but the path was arduous and his horse found it difficult to gallop through the stones and thrones that lay along. Vallavareyan was exhausted. It had been many days since he had slept. Many a time, he found himself sliding off the horse due to weariness and lack of sleep. Despite his discomfort, he was determined to reach Pazhaiarai with all the haste that he could muster. His first duty was to inform Princess Kundavai everything and then he could give into his weariness and sleep for hours and days…

Princess Kundavai

He imagined his conversation with the Princess and the way her face would flush with happiness when he said, “I have successfully completed my mission!” Secretly smiling in anticipation he sped his horse through the woods intent upon the journey’s conclusion.

One thought was nagging his mind for some time now. Right from the time he left Kanchi he realized that he had told many lies. Though he told them only when the occasion demanded it, they were nonetheless ‘lies’ and he felt ashamed of himself. Though he had spent very less time in the company of the Prince, he found himself much influenced by him. Until he met the Prince he was convinced that those who worked in the political arena must know how to handle the intrigues and the troublemakers who came along with it. He was also very sure of the fact that he should use any trick or lie to complete his mission successfully and thereby please the Princes who might later grant his Kingdom back. But the Prince’s honesty, integrity and truthfulness had influenced him so much that he almost hated his old self and the pride that he had in his own ingenious tricks! He remembered the lies that he told the previous night for the Mandiravadi’s benefit and worried about it. What if somebody had heard them and repeated it to the Prince or the Princess? Princess Kundavai might not believe but nevertheless it was a risk that horrified him in retrospect.

He made a resolution not to resort to imagination while escaping from enemies. He resolved to tell the truth no matter what the situation demanded and handle whatever came of it like a true warrior that the Prince would be proud of. Let that Veera Vaishnavan and Ravidasan spy for their masters.

He was sick of spying and he vowed to make his way in the world with the might of his sword. Whatever victory comes his way through his sword would be sweet enough to savour rather than indulge in spying, lying and trickery. No more lying, even it resulted in his death!

It took him awhile to notice that his horse was meandering slowly and he too had dozed off for a while. He woke with a start when the horse started limping. The horse neighed piteously unable to rest its front hoof on the ground. Vandiya Devan rubbed its neck soothingly and then got on the ground to check its hoof. A small pebble had pierced itself inside the hoof that he removed slowly. Thankfully there was no lasting wound. He rubbed down the horse muttering encouraging sweet words and then got on its back again. That’s when he remembered yet another snippet of conversation that he heard when he was held captive in the Arab pirate ship.

“Tamil people of the south are merciless towards their horse and nor do they have any brain to speak of. They use their horses without fitting its hoof with an iron shoe. How long do they imagine will the horse survive running barefoot?”

He thought back to this conversation and wondered at it. Soldiers wear armour while going to the battlefield to save themselves from deadly wounds but he had never heard of iron armour for the hoof of the horse! But he had heard of this practice in many other kingdoms as well. He felt that it was a worth a try to check in the next ironsmith’s if they can fit his horse with an iron shoe. It might delay his journey towards Pazhaiarai but if his horse were to become lame on the way, he had no means to reach the place, unless he stole a horse from somewhere. Chi! He couldn’t imagine himself stooping to that level.

He turned the horse towards the king’s road and came out of the woods. He resolved to avoid the woods henceforth and moreover he doubted whether he would find anyone who knew him in these parts. If he stuck to the king’s road, it would easy to find an ironsmith too.

His surmise proved to be right as he sighted a village on his way through the road. What was surprising to behold was that all the homes in the village were decorated with garlands and flowers. He wondered whether Pazhuvetrayar and his entourage were expected through this way. If that was so, he resolved to pass through the village as soon as possible.

He spotted many villagers, womenfolk and men standing in groups and talking worriedly amongst themselves. Vandiya Devan couldn’t guess what they were discussing but many of them tried to stop his horse but he galloped on…

He found an ironsmith working right outside the village. Despite his misgiving about Pazhuvetarayar’s entourage on its way there, he wanted to get the iron shoe for his horse. He tied his horse outside and went inside the ironsmith’s house.

The ironsmith was working intently along with a small boy who minded the forge. When Vandiya Devan entered the house, he felt as though someone had hidden himself in the backyard but his attention was captured by the sword that the ironsmith held in his hands. It was a magnificent weapon – dangerous, sharp and beautiful. One side of it glowed like sliver and the other side was hot fresh out of the forge glowing red with heat. The fiery beauty of the sword entranced Vandiya Devan and he thought, “This is how a sword should be!”

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